Wolf admin. orders businesses to require face masks for workers, customers

The Wolf administration said Wednesday that it’s ordering essential businesses operating under the state’s stay-at-home order to require face masks for customers and workers. The order is effective immediately and will be enforced beginning Sunday at 8 p.m.

Under the order, most businesses must bar non-essential visitors who are not wearing masks from the premises. And employers have to provide masks to workers or approve homemade masks for employees to wear. Workers don’t have to use the masks during meal breaks. 

Meetings and training sessions should be conducted virtually, state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine, who signed the order, said during a press briefing Wednesday afternoon, and the start and end times for employees’ shifts should be staggered where possible.

The order comes a week after New Jersey’s Democratic governor, Phil Murphy, signed an executive order mandating that all customers and employees at grocery stores and other retail outlets to wear masks, according to NorthJersey.com.

Until now, the Pennsylvania guidance on masks had been voluntary. But Levine hinted Tuesday that a reversal was imminent.

If a business is exposed to a person with a probable or confirmed case of COVID-19, it has to conduct temperature screenings when employees report to work, and send home anyone with a temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. 

The business has to perform specific cleaning measures in these circumstances, and notify any employees who may have had contact with the infected person. 

Businesses are required under the order to limit occupancy inside the premises to no more than 50 percent of the number allowed by their occupancy permits. 

Stores have to install shields or barriers at registers and checkout areas to provide physical separation between customers and cashiers, or take other steps to ensure social distancing of six feet between customers and cashiers. 

And as many grocery stores have already started doing, businesses must reserve specific access times for shopping –at least weekly– for elderly or other people at greater health risk from the virus.

The order also outlines cleaning requirements for stores and equipment like registers, credit card machines and carts. Employees should be allowed to take breaks at least hourly to wash their hands. 

During Wednesday’s briefing, Gov. Tom Wolf said he didn’t agree with a Senate bill that would allow county commissioners to decide when to reopen businesses in their counties. The Republican-controlled chamber voted to approve the bill later in the day on Wednesday.

“I think this is something we’ll need to do as a commonwealth,” Wolf said. “Pennsylvania is flattening the curve because everywhere people are staying at home. We need to continue to work together.”

Correspondent Kim Lyons covers Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania for the Capital-Star. 

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Kim Lyons is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Columbia Journalism Review, the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, and numerous other local and national publications. She’s the producer and co-host of The Broadcast Podcast, committed to amplifying women’s voices in Pittsburgh and beyond, and was a 2015 Kiplinger Fellow in Public Affairs Journalism at Ohio State University. Find her on Twitter at @socialkimly